Jeremy WaldronUniversity Professor Jeremy Waldron testified before the U.K. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on March 15 regarding judicial review and felony disenfranchisement. Parliament is currently in conflict with the European Court of Human Rights regarding the court’s November 2010 ruling that the U.K. is violating the European Convention on Human Rights by barring prisoners from voting.

Waldron argued that Parliament’s discretion trumps strong judicial review. An elected legislature, he said, has a democratic legitimacy in representing the people that courts do not. Further, he asserted, legislatures have generally demonstrated a capability for dealing responsibly and thoughtfully with human rights issues. He acknowledged, however, that hasty and unexamined legislation can be problematic: “I believe that the process of scrutiny is important.”

When asked about the national debate over whether to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention, Waldron pointed to past legislative success in the area of human rights, but expressed some concern about the present.

“I had assumed—it was one of the things I grew up with—that the British Parliament had shown itself throughout the 1960s and 1970s capable of legislating and deliberating very carefully and thoughtfully on issues of rights. That was before the Human Rights Act, and they were addressing capital punishment, issues related to abortion and the decriminalization of homosexuality.

“I go back and read those glorious debates, and they show a Chamber that appears to recognize what it is like to debate issues of rights, to take a right seriously, to be profoundly aware of the interests that may be at stake and the interests that it is inappropriate to put in play against rights, to be aware that popular prejudice is not a reason for limiting a right, and to be aware of the genuine interest that may sometimes have to be appealed to in order to limit a right. You read those debates and get a sense of that shared awareness in the Chamber. It would be a very sad thing if that legislative ethos of taking rights seriously were to be shaken. I hope that the wild proposals about withdrawing from the Council of Europe are not evidence of that, but I fear they might be.”

Posted on March 23, 2011